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$3.5 million Birthing on Country grant to improve Indigenous midwifery services

Giovanni Torre -

Southern Cross University has secured a $3.558 million grant from the federal Department of Health and Aged Care to collaboratively scope and design a program for Birthing on Country with three Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

Pregnant Indigenous women in remote communities face the prospect of having to leave their family and community behind to travel hundreds of kilometres to get the care they and their baby need for the birth.

Southern Cross University and its partner organisations have committed to addressing the situation.

The project will be led by Professor Gillian Gould and Australia's first Aboriginal Obstetrics and Gynaecology specialist, Dr Marilyn Clarke, both from the University's Faculty of Health.

"I'm very excited to be part of this successful research grant, which will allow the Birthing on Country movement in Australia to be further explored and integrated with culturally competent smoking cessation care," said Dr Clarke.

The Department's Indigenous Australians' Health Programme – Workforce and Maternity Services Grant will include help for Aboriginal mums-to-be to quit smoking.

Professor Gould leads iSISTAQUIT, a program for pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who are wanting to quit smoking.

"We know that Birthing on Country has a very powerful impact on Aboriginal women, and that quitting smoking is one of the most important things they can do for their own health and the health of their babies," said Professor Gould.

"Coupling the already successful iSISTAQUIT program with a long-term plan to facilitate safe Birthing on Country will create a holistic pre-natal health plan for Aboriginal women living remotely."

The program has three main objectives: to scope Birthing on Country; to tailor the iSISTAQUIT program to local communities; and to boost the number of graduating Aboriginal midwives through an increase in scholarships and opportunities.

"Southern Cross University has significant experience in health promotion and health services research," said Professor Mary Spongberg, Southern Cross University's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Academic Capability).

"We're also proficient in delivering culturally safe, dynamic and innovative courses; in providing professional career pathways and scholarships; and in research relevant to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."

Southern Cross University has a highly regarded Midwifery program at its Coffs Harbour and Gold Coast campuses, with the provision of culturally appropriate care part of the curriculum.

"Birthing on Country encompasses a holistic view of the woman's journey to motherhood, and recognises the importance of Indigenous ways of knowing," said Dr Clarke.

"Southern Cross University, with its iSISTAQUIT program and Midwifery degree, is ideally placed to play a role in this exciting research."

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